What is DIY ethos

When Angela McRobbie did the essay Second Hand Dresses and the Role of the Ragmarket First published in 1989, in which she explores the importance of do-it-yourself (DIY) for the development of second-hand fashion, was the rapid transformation of the term DIY from a punk-inspired ethos of resistance against the culture industry to commercial and neoliberal appropriation hardly foreseeable. This article provides a cursory overview of the history of DIY culture with a view to the participation of women * in subcultural fashion, music and media production and outlines some of the ambivalences of DIY careers that are reinforced by neoliberalism.

About history
The history of do-it-yourself (DIY) culture begins in the 18th century with women * who produced and consumed handicrafts in their private lives because these activities were connected with aspects that are nowadays adequately linked to alternative culture / art production be associated, namely artistic self-realization, creativity and the acquisition of skills outside of educational institutions. The art and craft movement in England in the 19th century was the first to politicize (arts) crafts. In contrast to industrialization, she pleaded for slower and more individualized modes of production, whereby the term DIY was increasingly linked with independence from mass production and the rejection of alienated work and capitalized profit orientation. This understanding of DIY was popularized with the home improvement of middle-class families at the beginning of the 20th century, who repaired and changed their houses without the support of professionals. Initially out of necessity and carried out by all family members, DIY soon developed into a productive leisure activity that was combined with personal interests, creativity and “domestic masculinity” and has since been taken up and marketed by profit-oriented companies. In the fields of art, it was initially Dadaists who took up the DIY ethos and thus paved the way for the development of surrealism and later the Situationist International. Regardless of the differences between these movements, the artists shared the avant-garde's desire to combine art and everyday life and to undermine the discourses of capitalist consumer culture with self-produced manifestos, magazines, posters and collages. These publications anticipated the DIY idea of ​​fanzine culture. The first fanzines were produced by male science fiction fans in the 1930s, but middle and upper class girls also took up this creative practice in the 1920s and 30s and developed an independent fan culture with the admiration of film stars; however, their zines remained invisible to the more willing public. An early form of DIY music making emerged with skiffle musicians who used household items such as a guard board and teaspoon and inspired many young people to make music themselves. This enthusiasm was fueled by rock'n'roll and the increasing popularity of British beat groups in the 1960s, and many young women * picked up musical instruments and formed their own bands. With the restructuring of the US and British music industry at the beginning of the 1970s, this increase in female musicians experienced a setback, as from then on white, male rock bands were preferred to female performers and musicians of color, and rock within only mutated into a white, male-dominated genre over a decade. This situation changed at least partially with punk.

Punk: music, style and second hand fashion
Punk offered many disaffected young people an opportunity to articulate their anger at social inequalities stylistically and musically. Above all, however, it was young women * who, with their music, their confrontational glamor and distinctive second-hand style, performed a specific form of self-empowerment on stage, in the audience and in everyday life. For Angela McRobbie (1989), punk marks a “turning point” because these young people started their own subcultural DIY economy with the publication of fanzines, the production of music, the establishment of record labels and the buying and selling of second-hand clothing at flea markets launched to respond to the commercial culture industry. In accordance with the youth subculture analyzes of British cultural studies, McRobbie suggests understanding second-hand style and flea markets as a form of “subversive consumption” because it offered young women in particular an opportunity to enter the fashion industry with its mass-produced and high-priced goods deal and promote subcultural activities in a field that is traditionally associated with femininity and in which they could develop their creativity, earn money and participate in the subcultural DIY economy of punk relatively undisturbed by male dominance. This economy emerged following the “counter culture” of the hippies, which was accompanied by the explosive opening of shops and restaurants from the late 1960s onwards, while at the same time defining itself through the rejection of traditional middle class notions of education, career and family and socializing and economically disadvantaged groups. Stuart Hall pointed out this ambivalence back in the late 1970s, and she also worries McRobbie when she asks what it actually means when middle-class youth develop a preference for second-hand clothing, "dressing down" and "looking poor". and notes: Second hand style is an inadvertently humiliating response to those who have to buy second hand clothing. These class-specific ambivalences are by no means restricted to the area of ​​second-hand fashion, but also characterize the careers of subcultural fashion designers, musicians, graphic designers, bloggers, etc., who develop in and through the microeconomics of youth cultures neoliberalism will become more visible and tangible.

DIY careers
The transformation of the concept of DIY is directly linked to neoliberalism, which undermines democracy and its institutions and leads to the fact that precarization structures the lives of many (young) people after traditional forms of security, stability and community are eroding the relationships between ( Aus) Education and work will be changed and in many Western countries unemployment and poverty will rise dramatically. At the same time, (young) people are encouraged to take the position of inventive and responsible citizens who make the best decisions for themselves, participate in strategic planning and self-management, and act entrepreneurially in order to construct a coherent identity and pursue their own careers manage. Do-it-yourself is now the motto, now that the welfare state is increasingly relieving itself of its responsibilities. In this context, style, fashion, consumption and youth cultures have become increasingly important for many young people in order to construct an identity that is recognized by others and to embark on a DIY career as an alternative route into the world of work. These careers are based on the DIY principle with regard to self-organization and self-management, they are dependent on the integration into the informal subcultural microeconomics of the fashion, music and media affine youth cultures and scenes and are often characterized by “hope labor”, such as Kuhn and Corrigan (2013) in a study on online media production. The authors use this term to describe the badly or unpaid work that bloggers and web designers are doing in the present in order to gain experience and network, in the hope that better paid jobs will follow in the future . This future orientation can be found in many narratives of subcultural entrepreneurs who produce clothes, music or art for little or no money with a view to a better future. Steven Threadgold (2018) observed in underground music scenes in Australia that numerous young people were not interested in a normative transition from school to the labor market and were aiming for a DIY career, which means living in relative poverty and developing different strategies to combine wage labor, cultural production and self-realization. These high affective investments in creative, fulfilling and “meaningful” work are characteristic of actors who prefer a DIY career to “straight” work with regular working hours. They can often combine their inherited class privileges with their skills and knowledge, which they have acquired through participation in youth cultural scenes, to realize a subcultural enterprise such as a second hand shop or a small fashion label and, encouraged by that Put punk-inspired DIY ethos, independence and self-fulfillment above profit and stability. Many other individuals socialized in terms of youth culture are denied these opportunities due to a lack of cultural capital or a lack of money. These social inequalities are exacerbated by neoliberalism and permeate the microeconomics of youth cultures. At the same time, the growing interest of many young people with diverse social and cultural backgrounds in a DIY career is causing the global spread of an "alternative" cultural production that is becoming increasingly professional and articulating criticism of neoliberalism and social inequalities.

Pink rider is Professor of Music Sociology at the mdw - University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna. She researches youth cultures and scenes, popular music, gender and cultural heritage, working conditions, careers and training of musicians and the evaluation of musical achievements.


McRobbie, A., Second-Hand Dresses and the Role of the Ragmarket. In this. (Ed.): Zoot Suits and Second-Hand Dress. Palgrave Macmillan, London 1989, pp. 23-49.

Kuhn, K. / Corrigan, T., Hope Labor: The Role of Employment Prospects in Online Social Production, The Political Economy of Communication, 1 (1), 9–25.

Threadgold, S., Creativity, Precarity and Illusion: DIY Cultures and “Choosing Poverty”, Cultural Sociology, 12 (2), 2018, 156–173.